'Let's buy Nova': How a retro Brussels cinema hopes to beat rising property prices

'Let's buy Nova': How a retro Brussels cinema hopes to beat rising property prices
Credit: Cinema Nova

The iconic Cinema Nova's lease will soon expire. While the independent cinema has grown into a permanent fixture in Brussels, Belgium and beyond, rising real estate prices in the city centre could soon destroy the collective project. Now, the organisation is calling on the public to save it.

Nearly 30 years ago, in 1997, Cinema Nova was founded by a group of enthusiastic cinephiles who obtained a temporary usage agreement for the abandoned but mythical Studio Arenberg cinema. Now, 27 years later, the independent cinema is still standing.

However, that might not be the case for long if something is not done quickly, stressed Dirk Van Extergem, one of the cinema’s founders. "The end of our lease is coming up, which is why the Cinema Nova team made wild plans to secure the future of the cinema. With a cooperative company, the cinema can continue to follow its own, independent course," he told The Brussels Times.

This cooperative company (recognised as a social enterprise thanks to the Financité solidarity financing label) wants to secure the future of the cinema with the lowest possible rental price, so that Cinema Nova can continue its activities independently and for as long as possible.

Credit: Cinema Nova

"The Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert own the building. And after three years of negotiating, we have found an agreement for a leasehold with them. We just need the necessary funds," Van Extergem said.

A leasehold gives a person the power to hold and use a property belonging to someone else, such as building land owned by the municipality, for example. In this case, the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert own the building, but according to the agreement now on the table, they reached a leasehold agreement with Cinema Nova, provided the association can find the funds to keep the lease.

"The agreement would be valid for 68 years – the first time there has ever been such a long-term project like this here," said Van Extergem. "To secure that long lease, we need to raise an amount of around €794,000 so that the Nova Cooperative can become the owner of the building."

Safeguarding daring cinema

The cooperative, which will have no say in the programming of the theatre, would then be able to guarantee the same rental income for the next 68 years: €10,000 a year. "Otherwise, the price would now go up a lot in line with the market, and we would have to pay more rent. While we receive a lot of subsidies, suddenly having to pay €60,000 more would make it impossible to safeguard the programme."

"This means the cooperative is the best way to safeguard Cinema Nova as it is now, for 68 years to come," Van Extergem said.

Up until now, the cinema was in a precarious situation because the leases were always temporary. Every time a lease expires or the building changes hands, there was always the risk that the new owner would ask for more rent or wants to do something completely new with the building.

Credit: Cinema Nova

Van Extergem explained that, while they have no insight into who bid on the cinema, the gentrification in the neighbourhood around it is clear as day. "Brussels, like other modern cities, is also undergoing gentrification, which is both good and bad. Some 27 years ago, entire areas were abandoned or overlooked. But now, if you look at the pedestrian zone, for example, the centre has been completely tackled."

Fortunately, Nova knew fairly early on who the new owner of the building would become, which helped a great deal. “That is not to say it has been easy, the negotiations did still drag on for three years. But now, we have the solution, if we can raise enough money.”

How does it work?

Starting a cooperative is not the same as a regular crowdfunding campaign, Van Extergem said, adding that different kinds of shares can be bought. "There are €50 shares that anyone can buy, and there are €1,000 ones that investors, associations or other organisations can buy."

On 10 November, the cooperative had already raised €391,650 of their €794,000 target amount. "That means we still need about €406,000, meaning we have already come quite a long way." He referred to the Les Grignoux cinema in Liège, which managed to raise €600,000 from the general public in three months – "so it is possible."

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Cinema Nova has quite a large number of members and subscriptions, he said. "Should they all pay €50, we would be well beyond the amount we need, but I realise not everyone will (be able to) do that. If it works out, we will have 68 years of security. That is a great luxury."

It took three years of work, but it is a good way for an original construction to perpetuate this kind of alternative culture and non-commercial actions in the long term. "And for the people who just like to go to the movies, it is also a cool idea that you have saved a part of a cinema. It is a lot of money, but we already have almost half: I do not think this is a wild gamble. The more people make a small contribution, the better."

Buying a share is possible via the Supernova Coop website until 31 March 2024.

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